A ban on alcohol in Bihar? A remark by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today has swiftly fashioned a debate on whether the politician, hoping to be re-elected for a third term in November is pledging prohibition.
Woman in the audience at a public function Patna shouted complaints about the wide addiction to country liquor in rural areas. In response, Mr Kumar said, "These women are correct about alcohol. If I come to power, I will have it stopped."
As speculation quickly swelled about Mr Kumar's intent, his office did not issue a clarification.
For the upcoming election, Mr Kumar has partnered with an old rival, Lalu Yadav, and the Congress to counter the BJP, which hopes to leverage the PM's popularity to seize power. "If Nitish Kumar is so worried about the people's welfare, why doesn't he just implement his new idea immediately?" asked BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi.
The Bihar government earns nearly Rs 2,500 crore every year through taxes on the sale of alcohol.
In August, the Congress-led government in Kerala announced that within 10 years, it will be totally alcohol-free, a policy that has withstood being challenged in the Supreme Court. Hundreds of bars have been forced to shut down across the state, and alcohol is now served only in five-star hotels. Government-run liquor stores will be phased out more gradually over the next decade.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy refused to capitulate to those who underscored that turning Kerala dry will rob the state of its popularity as a leading tourist destination. The state has the highest alcohol consumption per capita in the country.